REVIEW – ‘Ready or Not’ proves to be one of the most deliciously wicked experiences of the year

Eat the rich seems to be a recurring theme of cinema this year. After Parasite blew everyone’s damn socks off with its acerbic takedown of class warfare, Joker made an earnest but messy attempt to craft something similar, and the misguided conservative backlash against The Hunt caused Universal Pictures to unceremoniously shelve the film indefinitely, we’re offered up a piece of cinema with an anti-elitist message as subtle as a crossbow to the chest.

With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, Ready or Not boldly declares rich people are batshit crazy and will do literally anything to maintain their affluence. Alright, so perhaps, in reality, your local mega-wealthy neighbours won’t kill you to satisfy a blood oath made by their ancestors. But, hell, when the chips are down and money is on the line, who knows what people will do these days?

A sardonically black horror-comedy with a hefty helping of thrills, lashings of blood, and an absurd amount of fun (remember fun?), Ready or Not proves to be one of the most deliciously wicked experiences you could have inside a cinema this year. A twisted peek behind the glamorous facade of a family hiding a dark secret, it’s a wild and raucous thrill ride, elevated by a nasty bite of perfectly timed social commentary.

Grace (a terrific Samara Weaving) thinks she’s finally found the man of her dreams in Alex Le Domas (Mark O’Brien), the somewhat-estranged son of a ridiculously wealthy family whose fortune was made from a wildly successful board game empire. After spending her youth bouncing between foster families, Grace has desperately longed for a family to call her own, foolishly believing that could be the Le Domas tribe.

In the vain hopes Alex’s family will ultimately accept her, Grace has gentled encouraged her future husband to reconnect with the family he fled years earlier for reasons unknown. She’ll soon discover those reasons were entirely valid. At her insistence, their wedding takes place at the lavish and expansive Le Domas family estate with the entire dysfunctional clan in tow.

Alex’s father and patriarch of the family fortune, Tony (Henry Czerny) isn’t quite the warm paternal figure Grace had hoped for, but his charming wife Becky (Andie MacDowell) has taken a curious shine to her. With a permanent scowl on her face, Aunt Helene (Nicky Gaudagni) also appears firmly against this union, but Alex’s alcoholic brother, Daniel (Adam Brody) is far more cordial. His uppity wife, Charity (Elyse Levesque), not so much. Rounding out the family is Alex’s cocaine-loving sister, Emilie (Melanie Scrofano), her oafish husband, Fitch (Kristian Bruun), and their two young sons, Gabe (Ethan Tavares) and Georgie (Liam MacDonald).

Once the wedding festivities are complete, Grace is informed of a quirky family initiation tradition for every new member of the Le Domas family. At the stroke of midnight, she must partake in a game chosen at random from a mysterious vintage wooden box. In the past, this has included innocuous choices like checkers, chess, and a round of Old Maid.

But poor Grace is given the cursed Hide and Seek card, which she naively laughs off as a rather childish option. But the way the Le Domas family play is far from the innocent game you remember from your 5th birthday party. Once the game begins, our blushing bride soon finds herself in a murderous cat-and-mouse chase, as she tries to survive until dawn.

The backstory as to exactly why Alex’s family are desperate to murder a perfectly innocent woman is firmly rooted within a farcical rabble of mythical gobbledegook that’s rather absurd and silly. But the beauty of Ready or Not is that it never once takes itself seriously, allowing an audience to blissfully be taken along for the ride.

Yes, the inherent nature of this sinister round of Hide and Seek doesn’t make a whole lot of rational sense. And the movie knows it. But when the game is such riotous and bloody fun, who the hell cares? As with any film with an inherently supernatural plot, there’s plenty of suspension of disbelief required here. Thankfully, it’s an incredibly easy task to achieve.

Once you let yourself go, Ready or Not quickly becomes an immensely enjoyable rollercoaster, filled with outrageous set-pieces that offer as many laughs and entertainment as they do chills and thrills. Playing like a modern version of Clue with The Purge as its inspiration, Grace is put through the absolute wringer, as she battles her way through the night and the neverending maze of hallways and rooms in the La Domas estate.

Shooting on location in Toronto’s sprawling Parkwood Estate, once home to the auto baron who founded General Motors of Canada, the gothic mansion becomes a character entirely of its own. With its series of secret passages the La Domas family know all too well, the home seemingly works against Grace, as if it’s entirely in on the deadly hunt.

Yet, it soon becomes apparent the young bride is far more wily than first appearances, coming into her unexpected status as a new “final girl” for the 21st century. That’s entirely thanks to a star-making performance from Australia’s divine Weaving, who deftly stakes her claim as one to watch. With a wildly expressive face and sheepish vulnerability, she’s terrific as the hapless victim of a cruel game she unwittingly signed up for.

But as Ready or Not barrels on, Weaving expertly transforms Grace into a vengeful and fiery heroine who quickly turns the tables and bravely takes control of her own destiny. Frankly, she’s fueled more by the fact her perfect dream wedding has been ruined by the psychopathic family she’s unconsciously married into, and she’s out to make them pay.

With all the fury of a bride scorned, adorned with a now-blood-soaked and haphazardly torn wedding dress, Weaving absolutely shines. On paper, this easily could have been the tired one-dimensional female lead we’ve seen in a thousand horror movies. In Weaving’s hands, it’s something else entirely and the end result is a constant delight to behold.

While Weaving offers a mostly straight performance, the supporting ensemble cast goes for broke, providing plenty of laughs to balance out the blood. MacDowell is terrific as the endearing and charismatic matriarch whose masking plenty of contempt for her new daughter-in-law. Brody is gifted the meatiest storyline, as Daniel struggles with his conflict over familial obligation and a genuine fondness for Grace.

But it’s a scene-stealing Guadagni who almost runs away with the entire film, as the nefarious Aunt Helene, whose weapon of choice is a medieval-looking axe. With her spiky white hair, thick black eyeliner, and gothic attire (she wears a cap, for Pete’s sake), Helene almost resembles a classic Disney villain. Think Ursula meets Maleficent. Guadagni chews the scenery with a wildly exaggerated character whose thirst for blood is equally matched by her desire for wealth.

While the dialogue is occasionally a little hokey and exposition-heavy, the screenplay by Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy is incredibly sharp and impressively witty, taking a white-hot poker to the 1% and showcasing precisely what wealth can do to people. Ready or Not is ultimately a subversive takedown of the upper class, and lord knows they have it coming. The film invites you to take devilish pleasure in seeing Grace serve some richly deserved comeuppance to a family who’ve lived a life of privilege they did absolutely nothing to earn.

For a film that only cost $6 million (!) to produce, Ready or Not looks absolutely sublime. That’s a testament to the work of directors Matt Bettinelli-Olphin and Tyler Gillett, who have crafted a low-budget horror film that looks anything but. In the ultimate case of life imitating art, Bettinelli-Olphin and Gillett have bested their big-budget horror rivals to deliver one of the year’s finest films of this genre, proving money can’t buy you everything.

With a final act that’s utterly masterful and absurdly wonderful, Ready or Not is supremely entertaining from start to finish. Elevated by its biting commentary on class warfare and a sublime ensemble cast, this is everything a horror-comedy should be. This film gives you everything you came for and plenty you weren’t expecting.

What a joy to see something blaze its own original path and have you leaving the cinema with a huge naughty grin on your face, especially after a final shot sure to go down in the annals of horror movie lore. With lashings of blood and plenty of giddy thrills, Ready or Not is one game you’ll want to play again and again.

Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Melanie Scrofano, Kristian Bruun, Nicky Guadagni, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
Producers: Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Tripp Vinson
Screenplay: Guy Busick, R. Christopher Murphy
Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Production Design: Andrew M. Stearn
Music: Brian Tyler

Editing: Terel Gibson
Running Time: 95 minutes
Release Date: 24th October 2019 (Australia)